Day 1 - Read Aloud Selection: Julius Lester's "From Slave Ship to Freedom Road" and Tom Feeling's wordless book, "Middle Passage—White Ships/Black Cargo."
Children will generally learn that as held true for many world cultures, slavery was an integral part of African society, but it was not as devastatingly dehumanizing as chattel slavery imposed by European nations, particularly the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British. They will learn that between 10 to15 million Africans were stripped from their homeland, taken across the Atlantic to the Americas and Caribbean shores where they labored as slaves.
Day 2 – Poetry Selections:
Carole Boston Weatherford's "The Capture"
Introduce students to Weatherford's prose and new vocabulary words contained therein like
(which in the Yoruba language of Nigeria means "joy"),
treads, tangled, trod, warthog, elders, rustle, rifle barrels,
. Ask students to contemplate who the main characters are in this story poem and what images are evoked as they listen to its words and cadence. Provide the definition of "Ayo" and ask how its use impacts the meaning of the poem.
"The Capture," written in rhythmic prose, begins with a character, Ayo, being situated in what seems to be a dense equatorial forest area in his homeland on African shores. It appears he is on a hunt, part of a traditional rite of passage into manhood. Read the first 13 lines of the poem at a leisurely, even pace. However, change that speed as you near the end of the 13
line, where we find that Ayo is so immersed in the chase that he "does not hear the footsteps/of slavers behind him, the rustle/of ropes that will bind wrists and ankles/or the clink, clink of trade beads against rifle barrels…."
When reaching the words "rustle/of ropes…," pick up the speed once more. Accentuate the "clink, clink" wording; then slow down the pace as you approach the final lines of the poem. Students who listen attentively will grasp that the poem does not rhyme in the traditional sense, but is rich in intonation, succinct phrasing, onomatopoeia, cadence, and descriptive vocabulary. They too will determine that the writing style is intentional, as highlighted below.
Upon listening to this work, my students noted that the beginning lines gave them a sense of comfort and well-being. D'Hati, a child who rarely participates in classroom dialogue, eagerly volunteered that he pictured a little boy proudly returning to his village showing off his catch to prove he had grown up and could take on manly responsibilities. Students also revealed that the sense of comfort and happiness changed as they came to the 14
line containing the words "rustle of rope…" For them, the sound and cadence of the subsequent wording sparked a sense of apprehension, as if something bad were about to happen. They noted that the phrasing and "choppiness" of certain words (like "Ayo does not hear the footsteps" in the 13
line and "the rustle" in the 14
line) made them recognize more than one person is being depicted. My students reemphasize that the characters seem to be walking in a clandestine manner through what could have been a savannah or dense equatorial forest locale. A few students also noted irregular rhyming patterns in some of the wording (i.e., "of slavers
" and "ropes that will
does not "
)." Students made a connection with the fast and slow cadence, contrasting it with the sounds of someone being pursued. Avery noted he could feel Ayo panting, trying to escape the slave traders' clutches, and another youngster, Priscilla, noted it was too late, for she could feel the clank-clattering of the chains as if Ayo were being shackled. The poem has a cacophonic, John Coltrane-type jazz quality, letting the reader know the journey will be far from joyful.
Day 3. Include copies of the poem in the Prosody Station to enhance prosody skills and to review the main idea of Weathorford's work. Have the children incorporate hand gestures and body movement into the prosody practice experience. To extend the activity, have children role play traveling on board a slave ship, stolen from African shores headed to an unknown land. Make reference to the use of the name "Ayo" in Weatherford's work. Provide an alternative listing of African names with which students can identify for storywriting purposes. Subsequently have students write a narrative prose piece concerning their role-played slave ship journey, introducing themselves with an African name that in some way coincides with story poem events. (Refer to my 2002 curriculum unit, "Middle Passage: A Journey of Endurance" for background details.)